7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
9 Common people are a mere puff of air
and important people are a lie.
Weighed together on a scale,
they amount to less than a breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work.
Yes, there definitely are important people here on earth. It’s playing games to think that all people here on earth are the same. The children of human parents just are not! Among one another, they are very unequal. At the same time, everyone has to agree that the distinctions among them are so endlessly varied that any attempt to classify them is really quite lame. Yet, the people in the world around us noticeably fall into either an immeasurable mix of common ones or a small class of important ones.
They are regarded as common or important according to the standards of measurement that have always been applied and are still used. Common people have very little wealth, but important people have a great deal. Common ones have very little power, while important ones have a lot of it. Commoners have limited intellectual capacities, but prominent folks possess a great deal of thinking ability. Little people hardly matter in society, while big shots control it. Energy and willpower are in short supply among common people, but important people have them in epic proportions. Dependence is the norm for one, dominance for the other. Here a countless mass of the weak and vulnerable look at the limited number of important people in awe and amazement. They in return are scarcely inclined to even notice the ones to whom little has been given. The important and the common people represent the undeniable, enduring distinction that cuts through and divides all facets of human life.
The very few are the ones who accomplish something significant. They have the treasure and power, the talent and the drive, the influence and the control over the opportunities to do so. They make a name for themselves by doing so. They leave their footprints on the life of their community, city, country, and church. These people are surrounded by an ocean of what the psalmist calls “common people,” who endlessly beat against them like the waves of the sea. These are the ordinary folks who are weaker and poorer. They are powerless and lack the genius and money of the others. They haven’t been granted the same talent, resolve, and persistence. All they can do is huddle together as the masses, find solace in their numbers, and undertake in their strength what they realistically dare to do.
These important people are traveling in circumstances that are extremely dangerous for them. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” said our Savior. But no one should think that this applies only to those who are rich in terms of money. Sadly, no! This is equally true, and perhaps even more frighteningly so, for those who are rich in genius, knowledge, determination, or social influence. Pay close attention to how few important people enter through the narrow gate. Also notice how many of those who give the appearance of entering actually remain behind. This even applies to preachers! In every century, they have been numbered among the important people in the church of Jesus Christ. They were the powerful. They had the authority. Yet how rarely hasn’t there been a time when Chrysostom’s complaint was echoed with his burning intensity: “Most shepherds are standing outside the sheepfold of Christ!”
It can’t be any different! It’s almost impossible even for ordinary, weak, and helpless people to discount themselves. How terribly more difficult, then, it must be for the very few who are celebrated, important, rich, powerful, and influential! They don’t only have to deal with their own egos, but they also have to deny all the incense offered to them, all their influence, and their public image. With God all things are possible, but without it one of these prominent people could never enter God’s glorious kingdom. It’s like it is with the beauty of a woman! What a miracle of divine grace has to happen to cause a beautiful young daughter not to be held at bay from God by her beauty and not to be seduced by her vanity. Who wouldn’t admit this?
There are so few important people here on earth who will also be great in the kingdom of heaven. They are inwardly so small. “They are a lie,” says the psalmist. You could even say: “It’s a lie that they are important.” They definitely seem to be. But they really aren’t. Those who are truly important possess inner depth. They are significant in the sight of God and will be so eternally. You will find them much more often among those who are poor. They are poor in terms of money, material goods, genius, and power. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Unless you become like a little child, O you who are important here on earth, your portion in Jesus will disappear!”
But it’s not only that the important people are traveling in circumstances that are dangerous for themselves. They are dragging common people into danger along with them. They have such enormous influence and power that people can’t resist them. When the power of money or personality or reason are so ungodly that they only serve egoism, then that miserable influence becomes very oppressive and domineering for common people. Fear arises. Then fear becomes oppressiveness that gives way to cowardly flight or creeping bitterness. You can see in the life of a village how pernicious the power of an influential man can be on the lives of common people. If it comes to that kind of expression on the village level, how much worse it will be in the cities. Our world and our hearts are so sinful that every powerful person, who is no more than a sinner among sinners, is dangerous!
When a powerful person is not against you but is for you, they are especially dangerous. That’s true if they help or bolster and support you. Just take a look around you in your surroundings. Notice the powerful people among you who pose a double danger. They cause you to depend too much on them. And they lean too heavily on your enthusiastic amazement regarding them. This is how the idols of this world appear. It’s how their little altars are erected. It’s how people then light incense to them. It’s how honor for the Lord disappears and how powerful people are corrupted.
The spirit of the age nurtures this terrible evil very strongly. It does so even among Christians. It is intent on gaining ground on the false premise that important and powerful people attain personal recognition and make a name for themselves because of what they are in and of themselves.
This is why we need God’s Word so much. It’s the Word that also lays down a premise where important people are concerned. It’s the theory that asserts exactly the opposite. It’s the affirmation that is a source of comfort to the weak, of salvation for those who are important, and of honor to God. It endures century after century. It is the affirmation that the church of Christ continues to make: “Important people are not what you think they are; they are a lie!”
For if I’m a weak, common person and if I believe that the important people are a lie, then fear naturally subsides in my heart. Then I begin to live again. I dare to breathe and celebrate in my soul. One thing have I heard. The Lord told it to me twice, namely, that strength belongs to God; it is not lodged in powerful people.
This is what likewise saves those important folks. For something happens to an important person who knows and believes and comprehends that they “are a lie,” that is, that it’s simply not true that they are someone special. Then that temptation loses its appeal. Its power is broken. They accept the fact that they are no different from the least of all persons and that they are only an instrument in the service of the Lord God. They can humbly kneel before God again, creep toward him, and squeeze through the narrow gate.
This is how God reclaims his glory in the lives of powerful people. These important people are the works of his hands. He has fashioned them. They are his instruments. Just as a blacksmith wields a huge hammer to bend and shape the metal on his anvil, so God Almighty has several powerful hammers in addition to his more refined tools. They are available for him to use. But they lie idle and powerless in the corner until he extends his strong arm, grips them, and uses them to strike the red-hot metal he’s shaping.
If the hammer would say: “I’m the blacksmith,” it would be lying. But if that huge hammer remained a passive tool and recognized that God is the smith who’s doing the work, it would be truthful. And that’s the truth by which God is shaping his church.
And this explains how sometimes people of noble birth appear who are “important individuals” among the people but who are “very common men and women” in God’s presence. That’s to say, you can find children of God who are simultaneously powerful people in their generation here on earth and who are also great in the kingdom of heaven.
These would include the holy apostles, the martyrs, and the church’s giants. They were important people who began by regarding themselves as “a lie,” but who became the truth in him who “for our sakes became a worm and no man at all.”
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms